If you’re a traditional job seeker, getting your resume* on track is a great place to begin. It’s important to remember that from the employer’s perspective, looking through a stack of resumes is a pretty thankless job. Because most are so terrible and immediately go in the “no” pile (if you don’t believe us, post your own job ad and read ‘em and weep) the reviewer is generally desperate for an indication upon first glance of your resume that you might be a promising candidate. Because most reviewers make an initial judgement in less then 6 seconds, this initial stage of landing in the “yes” pile has as much to do with overall formatting and aesthetic properties as it does with your actual experience.
With that in mind, below is our list of the 10 biggest mistakes often seen on resumes.
1. Leading with your education. This is for your school days. Once you graduate, put it at the end of your resume. It is no longer the most important thing about you.
2. Not editing your resume for a particular job. Every job and every company is unique, and you therefore need to alter your resume each time you apply for a different job. Never use the same descriptive words or phrases for different jobs. Always reframe your own personal objective statement to make sure it aligns with the employer’s. Generic, standardized resumes are a dead giveaway to a lazy attitude you might bring to a job.
3. Leaving out metrics. Let us guess, you’ve used words like “hardworking,” “dynamic,” “driven,” “efficient,” and “passionate” on your resume before. Guess what? So has absolutely everyone else. What’s much better is to provide concrete metrics and proof of those terms. So “I am a driven self starter who is willing to go the extra mile to get the job done” becomes “In my last role, I developed and founded a employee volunteer network in my spare time which collectively donated 200 community service hours in 18 months.” The fact that you did that shows that you’re “driven and willing to go the extra mile.” Adding numbers is a big win.
4. Verbosity and too many big words. Use the “KISS” (Keep it Simple Stupid) method. If what you are saying is already valuable and impressive it does not need to be accompanied by complicated lingo that will magically make you sound smarter. Writing a sentence such as: “I am enthusiastic about seeking a position within your dynamic organization due to my commitment to the values you express in your company charter” does not make you sound smart; it says a whole lot of nothing.
5. Having a vague mission/brand statement (or none at all!). Your vision statement should be the thing on the resume that you spend the most time on. It should be very clear, succinct and at the top of the page. It should follow a narrative arc of: who you are now, the background that got you there, and what you’re seeking for the future. Reviewers LOVE it when you do a lot the work for them by providing a clear picture of who you are in 120 words or less (instead of having to trawl through bullet points written in 10 point font to piece together the full picture). Don’t waste the opportunity to get on their good side from the first moment they land on your resume.
6. Presenting your resume on a plain piece of paper using Times New Roman font. If you want to be a force in the creative world, your resume is the first showcase of your talent. Showing up with a boring resume does not behoove you. Your resume doesn’t need to have and whistles, but a logo for your name, a nice professional photo, and a clean, elegant font can go a long way.
7. Leaving out the “non-obvious” or failing to include volunteer or similar work. Think outside the pay-slip. Just because you didn’t get paid for something doesn’t mean you didn’t gain a skill from it. If you include unconventional items such as association membership or volunteer work that is relevant to your desired career, it will help you stand out. Even if you used to book gigs for your band in college, you DJ one night a month at a club, or were in charge of training new volunteers at your local soup kitchen, you learned something about vendor involvement, event planning, coordination and time management. It’s worth including this type of information if you phrase it properly and if it’s relevant to your role.
8. Including every job you have ever had. This is a big no-no. The general rule of thumb is that people only care about your last three to four jobs outside of college. If you are just leaving school, try and put down work or activities that are relevant to your desired career – even if they were unpaid. This is where internships are important. Never ever include part-time work or retail/service jobs that you did only to pay the rent (unless, of course, you’re in a related industry like hospitality or fashion). In general, these jobs are not only irrelevant to the job you are applying for, but make you look like you lack professional experience.
9. Poor formatting and spelling or grammar errors. This is just plain laziness. If recruiters see spelling errors or blatant typos and grammar errors, they will without a doubt put you in the “no” pile. Even a misused comma or superfluous “s” means you didn’t spend time asking people to proofread your resume. Our tip: print out your resume on a piece of paper when you are happy with it. You’re more likely to spot mistakes when you read it like this.
10. A one-page resume. No, this is not a typo. Your resume can in fact be more than one page but only, and we mean only, if everything on it is relevant and important information. If you’re just leaving university or have only been out a few years, this rule does not apply to you; your resume should be one page. However, If you have a lot of experience in your field, two pages is acceptable, but never go over this under any circumstances. Time-strapped recruiters will automatically put your resume in the “no” pile if it drags on too much.
*We use “resume” and “CV” interchangeably here, as our clients in the US use the former term, and elsewhere in the world use the latter term.